The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is a very, very scary movie that knows how to use its semi-gimmicky (and incredibly innovative at the time) “found-footage” format to good use. Peering through the video’s viewfinder puts us in the direct perspective of Heather, Josh and Mike as they find themselves lost in the Maryland woods, possibly in the realm of an ancient, evil witch that wants their souls.
Unlike many of the imitators that followed in the years since Blair Witch‘s release, it’s a movie that knows fundamentally what is scary. It knows how to manipulate an audience without ever having to give away any easy answers. Even though it’s popular to dismiss, it’s an incredibly effective, mysterious work that knows how to get under your skin.
Season of the Witch (1972)
George A. Romero (director of zombie flicks Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) has a handful of movies in the late 60s and throughout the 70s that people–and time–sort of forgot about. Season of the Witch is one of those movies. It wasn’t the nightmare-inducing sort of non-stop horror that Night of the Living Dead was, nor was it the brilliant piece of bitter satire that Dawn of the Dead was, so it was destined to just sort of be… forgotten. Which is a shame, really, because even though it won’t blow your socks off, it’s a neat little drama on the fringes of the supernatural world that only hints at dark things that may exist in the shadows. It never thumbs its nose at Witchcraft as a real religion, either.
At the time, it was mis-marketed as a straight horror film (and still is today), so it unfortunately never found the right audience.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
This is like a must-see movie for anyone of a certain age. It has it all. It has a talking cat, for Christ’s sake. It has a zombie. It has three witches resurrected after a hundreds-year-long hiatus after being hanged and they return from the dead hungry for the souls of children. It’s sometimes a little too cutesy for its own good (it is a Disney movie, after all), but it’s pretty damn good.
If you weren’t a child at some point in the 90s, I can see Hocus Pocus being grating without that certain aspect of nostalgia boosting it up a bit. You might also need a strong tolerance for Bette Midler making silly faces.
Scary. As. Fuck. I rented Suspiria one night seemingly at random and I don’t think I was adequately prepared for how goddamned scary it is. It’s really scary. An American girl, a fish out of water in a strange place, comes to find out that the prestigious ballet academy she’s studying at is a front for a coven of witches.
I can’t remember who I’m stealing this from, because I’m not clever enough to think of something so apt, but someone once described a scene in Suspiria as a pure distillation of horror, like how someone would expect a horror movie to be if they’d never actually seen one. Doorways open into pits of razor wire, exposed-and-beating hearts are stabbed with knives, and seeing-eye dogs rip out their owner’s throat. Suspiria plays like a nightmare fueled by drugs and a fever. The soundtrack by Goblin is hypnotic. The cinematographic coloring from the classic Hollywood studio days, harking back to the vibrant colors of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind only makes the clearly manufactured aspects of the film elevated into this brilliant sort of surreality.
The Witch (2016)
2016’s The Witch is one of those “love it or hate it” movies. You’ll either find the plight of these God-fearing people a terrible bore, or you’ll twist your hands uncomfortably every time the impatient camera twist toward the mouth of the dark woods, just hinting at the possibility of something awful living inside.
The Witch prides itself on how subtly it builds itself to its fantastic finale. You have to have a certain amount of patience (and access to subtitles, ideally), but they payoff at the end is worth it. I refuse to give anything away, or spoil any of the surprises, but at the point you see a hand and hear a voice, it’s almost poetic in how perfect the execution is.
The Witches (1990)
Roald Dahl at his best knows how to weave a tale that kids will eat up, and be completely scared shitless of.
Nicolas Roeg is a great choice for director for this adaptation because he pulls approximately zero punches, up until the ending which I feel like was probably insisted upon by the studio. Fun is fun, but existential angst about death might be a bit much.
The Witches is a great time for the family, telling the story about a coven of witches in a hotel that transform a young boy into a mouse. Along the way is much peril and some great special effects.